- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

LA PLATA While most Americans are celebrating Independence Day tomorrow, residents here will be rolling up their sleeves to continue rebuilding their town, which was wracked by a tornado 66 days ago.
"Maybe at night I'll take a break," said John Bales, a commercial property owner who manages several sites along Charles Street, the main street of La Plata.
"We've got so much work to do, and while two days might not seem like a lot of time to you, it makes a huge difference," said Tom Adkins, owner of the Tri-County Insurance Restoration Co.
Mr. Adkins was explaining why he plans to work side-by-side with his employees tomorrow and Friday, when many people be enjoying the start of a four-day weekend.
His company is restoring several of the historic homes that were damaged. Some have signs saying "We Will Rebuild." All have American flags displayed somewhere.
"I feel bad because I want to spend this day with my family," said Tri-County employee Ramon Calderon, who immigrated from Mexico in 1977 and became a U.S. citizen in 1996. "July Fourth is a special day, and my family and I always go to D.C. I don't want this year to be an exception."
Tom O'Farrell and his wife said they might spend some time on the water tomorrow or stay at home to repair their large turn-of-the-century Victorian home on Oak Avenue. In addition to sustaining a damaged roof, flattened shed and shattered windows, the property had 47 trees destroyed.
"This storm put us back 100 years in time to see what things were like," Mr. O'Farrell said, "and you just can't go out and replace 120-year-old trees."
Residents who aren't working during the holiday likely will attend the Independence Day celebration sponsored by the town of La Plata at the train station downtown.
The streets are lined with flags, just as they were shortly after the April 28 tornado that killed four persons, injured more than 100 others and caused more than $100 million worth of damage. Some home and business owners have put up festive wreaths, bows and even merchandise to get residents in the holiday mood for the first Independence Day celebration since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"Our town needs a little spirit, don't you think?" said Cheri Burch, owner of Styles, a home and garden beauty shop on Charles Street.
Ms. Burch decorated her storefront with trinkets, flags and scarves celebrating American heritage. Midday yesterday, she sold a "Pledge of Allegiance" mouse pad because a customer wanted to protest the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision last week declaring the Pledge unconstitutional.
The beauty salon portion of her store has seen business "skyrocket" since the tornado, Ms. Burch said, but home-and-garden-furnishings sales have been stagnant. Most people are not interested in the little things, she said.
"But I won't be working the Fourth. It's a holiday, and we all need a little something to celebrate around here," Ms. Burch said.

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